One year ago today I started my dream job as a wildlife veterinary nurse. These jobs are extremely competitive and hard to come by. In addition to having experience, you often have to know someone on the inside or be in the right place at the right time. It was a long road for me to end up here, so I am sharing my path in the hopes that it will help someone else trying to break into the field.
After high school, I went straight to college to earn my B.S. in Wildlife Biology. At the time, I did not know exactly what I wanted to do with that, only that I wanted to work with animals. One summer, I interned in a local wildlife rehabilitation clinic and fell in love with the work. I returned the following summer as a volunteer. When back at school, I did an internship at a small zoo in the same town as my college. There, I was rotated through every department, including the hospital. While I enjoyed working with the animals in any capacity, I really found the work of the hospital exciting.
After college, I thought I wanted to go on to earn a masters degree in marine biology. I know this seems random, but my favorite animals are sea turtles, and I thought to work with them I needed a graduate degree. Luckily, I had a spring internship lined up, and would not be starting my masters program until the following fall.
This spring internship was at a sea turtle rehabilitation hospital in Florida. While there, I often talked about my career goals with the staff who were veterinary technicians. It was through my conversations with them that I decided that I should return to school for a vet tech degree instead of going to graduate school.
A degree in veterinary technology is typically an associates degree, taking 2-3 years to finish depending on how many classes you take per semester. I decided on an online program which was accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). In order to sit for the licensing exam after graduation, you must attend an accredited school. There are only a handful of distance learning programs that are accredited. This online program was the perfect route for me. I am a hands on learner and this allowed me to work in a clinic and gain a lot of experience. With that decision, my husband and I moved from Florida to California for his job, and from there I began my studies.
While completing courses full-time and working full-time, I also began volunteering one day a week at a seal and sea lion rehabilitation facility. Two and a half years later, I finally finished school and sat for the licensing exam. Meanwhile, I continued volunteering at a zoo and at the seal and sea lion facility. I also got a new job at a veterinary clinic that saw not only dogs and cats, but also birds, reptiles, pocket pets, and more. When jobs with wildlife opened up, I would apply. It took many rejections before one finally panned out. And here I am. One year later.
My advice for anyone trying to get into the field:
Volunteer or intern as much as you can to get experience and get your foot in the door. Network. Get to know the staff, even if you don’t get a job there, they may know someone who knows someone who can help you get a job. It took me nearly 10 years to finally get my dream, so don’t lose hope. If you work hard, and don’t give up, eventually you will get your dream too.